Neck pain can be frustrating and affect your quality of life. While neck pain is sometimes caused by whiplash or another type of injury, these are not the most common causes. More often, poor posture puts stress on your spine and muscles and causes neck pain.
Today, more jobs require you to sit in an office chair for hours at a time. Many people find their work days getting longer as the requirements of their jobs change. Even outside of our work life, we often use tablets or smart phones to communicate. These can be more damaging than a computer screen if you allow yourself to curl around them. As these lifestyle changes have happened, chronic neck pain has been on the rise.
When you sit, you tend to sink down into the chair at an unnatural angle. Then, to do computer work, your neck, head, shoulders, and upper back tend to curl forward. If we do not make a conscious effort to maintain correct posture whenever possible, poor posture will gradually set in without our realizing it.
Muscles of the Neck
Your neck has several muscles that work together to hold the head up and connect the spine to the rest of the body. When any of these muscles become tense or tight, your neck may hurt.
- Levator scapulae muscles: at the side and back of the neck
- Subscapularis muscles: triangular shaped muscles that connect to the shoulder joint
- Pectoralis minor muscles: triangular muscles that connect to the chest
- Suboccipital muscles: muscles used to rotate the head
- Scalene muscles: muscles used to rotate the neck
Head Forward Posture
One of the most common types of poor posture that causes neck pain occurs when we lean our head forward over our shoulders. This may happen naturally if we spend most of our day in an office chair in front of a computer, as so many people do.
If you make a habit of sitting this way, your posture will suffer when you stand for long periods as well. The more time you put strain on your muscles in ways they were not meant to be used, the more neck pain you are likely to have.
The head and neck are made to be in a straight line above the shoulders. When you make a habit of sitting or standing with your head forward, you put stress on the vertebrae of the lower neck. This can lead to degenerative disk disease and other neck problems.
When you have a head forward posture, the muscles of the upper back are pulled and overworked in an unnatural way. The more you continue this posture, your back and shoulders will slump and round forward. Before long, your pain will spread to your shoulders.
Effects of Poor Posture
Over time, your poor posture can cause more than pain. You may have certain trigger points in your neck muscles that become painful to the touch. Your range of motion could become limited. Finally, your poor posture could lead to disk degeneration, a herniated disk in the cervical spine, or osteoarthritis of the cervical spine.
Correcting Your Posture
Fortunately, whatever problems you currently have with your posture can be improved through an ergonomic work station. If you correct your posture, you can improve or even cure your neck pain. The sooner you make simple corrections to the way you sit and stand, the more you can prevent more severe pain and health problems in the future.
A way to correct your posture after working for several hours is to do simple stretches and exercises. Exercise will increase blood flow to your joints and will help neck pain.
An example of a good exercise for neck pain is to place your hands on the back of your head. Interlock your fingers and keep your head and neck straight. Press your neck and the back of your head straight back into your hands (be careful not to tilt your neck) as far back as you can do without pain. Hold for several seconds and release. Repeat this several times throughout the day.
Posture at a desk
Depending on your job, you might not be able to reduce the number of hours you spend sitting at a desk. You can, however, take frequent breaks to stretch and make sure your workstation allows for correct posture. These are the most common guidelines for correct sitting at a desk:
- Hips and lower back are against the back of the chair
- Allow for the natural curve in your spine. Don’t force yourself to sit completely straight.
- Avoid leaning to one side or the other.
- Rest your feet flat on the floor.
- Thighs should be straight and not at an angle. Use a footstool if your chair is not adequate for your height.
- Keep your elbows to your side.
- Forearms and wrists should be parallel to the floor.
- Eyes should point at the top of the computer screen.
Your chair should feel good against you and have good support. Many chairs can be adjusted up or down depending on how tall you are. If you suffer from back or neck pain, it may help your posture to adjust your chair lower toward the floor than you are used to having it. You want to avoid having to look down at your computer screen. If your chair is too high, you are more likely to strain your neck by looking down, lean forward, and curl around your computer screen.
Even if you have minor neck pain or notice your posture slipping, start now to correct the problem. Don’t wait until your pain gets out of hand.